‘My flatmate won’t obey lockdown rules. How can I keep living here?’

For the first of our No Shame series, here's a dilemma involving lockdown rules, a dodgy flatmate and the stress that this combination can cause...

In our No Shame series, we’re delving into the very depths of all that’s embarrassing, awkward, and concerning (oh yes, we’re going there). By getting to the heart of the topics that everyone wants to avoid, we want to start honest conversations and give real world advice that can help you to navigate the trials and tribulations of modern life.

We’ve just gone into a third lockdown and I can’t handle my flatmate anymore. I live in a 4-bed shared house and he’s the only one of us who isn’t following the rules properly. But then I also don’t want to broach the topic and start tensions that could last months on end under the same roof. It’s reached the stage where I want to move out and just live in a two-bed with my boyfriend (who doesn’t live with us), just so I don’t have to deal with this kind of anxiety. Do I speak up? Is it wrong not to? 

I hear you. Lockdown number 476 (or that’s what it feels like in any case) is hard enough without added anxiety in the one place where you’re meant to feel safe. One of the worst things about the pandemic is that we all rely so much on other people to do their bit: ironically, we’re more connected than ever been before in that respect, if no other. 

I reckon talking to your flatmate is step number one. You say he’s the only one acting this way: I would avoid presenting a united front, as it will only make him feel defensive and isolated. Instead, use the start of this new lockdown to approach an honest conversation. Over a relaxing dinner, maybe when you’ve cooked something nice that makes the house feel loved (though avoid bringing it up after a few wines), gently suggest that you all open up about what you need from this lockdown. For some people that might mean not leaving their rooms much; for others, popping out to the shops is no big deal. But by articulating your individual anxieties and needs, you will start working towards a point of understanding. Try not to come at it from a “this is why I need you to stop being a dick” angle. It sounds like management speak, but good communicators usually start with something positive, then move to the negative gently: “I love our house and am happy here, but I’m finding the stress of the pandemic challenging.” “I have so much fun living in a big house, but I’m just a little worried that there are lots of ways we might pick this up.” Tell him what you need, then ask what she needs, then try to find something that works for both of you. 

If that doesn’t fix things, the next step is defining your personal coping strategies. It’s nye impossible to switch off from bad behaviour when you’re on top of each other all the time. Console yourself with the knowledge that this won’t last forever. Carve out space for yourself – a jog as daily exercise; a long soak in the bath; yoga in your room before bed. Don’t let these be compromised. Remind yourself that you are your own person, with an individual life. If that means neglecting some of the time you might normally spend together as a house, that’s okay. We all need to do what we have to to stay happy, healthy and whole right now. 

You talk about moving in with your boyfriend, and that may well be the right next step for you. But it shouldn’t be a choice you make because you’re running away. Living through lockdown with just one other person comes with its own challenges: no space, emotional or literal; the mundanity of it all. Everyone needs a vent right now. As it is, it might be better that your vent is talking to your boyfriend about your flatmate, than feeling like you’ve got no one to talk to about your boyfriend. Once this is over, you’ll know you’re moving in with your boyfriend because you love him and want to make the next stage of commitment together, and that you did everything you could to make your shared house a happy one.